December 10, 2012
by Howard J Elmer
From the November-December 2012 Fleet Management print edition
One-ton pickup trucks are a small slice of an automotive segment, within another segment. You’d think it’s small enough to escape much scrutiny; certainly the lack of marketing publicity suggests that. Yet, the numbers are not as small as most would think.
According to DesRosiers Automotive Reports, the Honda Civic is the best selling car in Canada at 42,412 units (YTD). However the best selling truck is the Ford F-series with 74,362 sales (YTD). Now that encompasses all Ford pickups (and I’m not even adding Chevy, or Ram), but around 30 percent of full-size pickup sales are in the Heavy Duty segment. One-ton duallys are then a smaller slice again, but on a percentage basis they outsell high-end luxury and performance cars across the country, and that’s a group that gets no end of attention in the media.
From a fleet perspective, real-world testing of the one-ton segment is very important. After all, these vehicles work for a living—and how well they work is what buying decisions are based on, not what colour they are.
This year, the Canadian Truck King Challenge decided to concentrate on this segment, testing the Ford F350 head-to-head with the Chevrolet Silverado 3500 and the Ram 3500. Each of these was the Crew Cab, long box, 4WD, diesel-powered version, equipped with a removable fifth-wheel hitch. Our testers were two 2012s (the Ram and Ford) along with a 2013 Chevy. While we prefer to always have same year models, we conceded that the Ford is virtually unchanged for 2013.
The Ram, however, will be substantially changed next year, but it’s unavailable until the end of the first quarter. So, we appreciate Ram being involved, because while we were already aware of the planned changes for 2013—namely Cummins diesel updates, new chassis, new air suspension and the like—having the 2012 really demonstrated not only the areas that were lacking but also how it compared to both the Ford and Chevrolet that were both new in 2011. In essence they have offered a truck doomed to lose—yet already knowing that they are changing almost everything, we could be critical of this year speaks to its competitiveness.
Testing this year was conducted in and around London, Ontario. The first day, we ran the trucks empty 200km from Toronto to London. Then we hitched them to three similar fifth-wheel RV trailers. These weighed in at around 14,500lb each. We then spent the day doing a 400km tour with the judges (of which there were five) switching up every 80km. Each judge was able to spend at least an hour hauling with each truck—plus being a passenger on two legs where they were asked to evaluate the interior design, comfort and conveniences in each truck from a crew perspective.
This last item is actually a new idea we decided to look at this year. This new category acknowledges that these HD Crew Cabs often carry “crews” regularly. We figured it made sense to look at the truck from the point of view of someone who never drove it—yet spent hours a day in it. Looking at each truck through this lens offered up some interesting observations.
How we decide what to test has to do with the normal life cycles of trucks. In this case the three HD pickups are the newest offerings from the manufacturers, with the Ford and Chevy being all new in 2011 and the Ram being new in 2010. Curiously though, as mentioned earlier, the Ram will be coming to us as an almost-new 2013 in the early spring. This short, three-year run is almost unheard of. Trucks typically have a generational life-span of between five and seven years. Well, that’s what it has been historically, but moving forward I can see the market heating up. Competition is growing more fierce, in part because the buyers are demanding more and more capability. Payload and towing capacity keep rising, engine output is growing, interior comforts and electronic conveniences are expanding.
This is not the industry leading the market. This is the market demanding more from the builders. The nature of the typical buyer of HD trucks is also changing.
How so? Well, fleet buyers traditionally look for a fair saw-off between capability and price, as they buy in bulk. But the rise of small business (the one- to five-truck market) is much more interested in capability and comfort. They still want a decent price, but are less likely to go for the cloth seats and rubber floors. It’s also fair to say they do care how the truck looks.
What all this means from a testing point of view is that we, as judges, work to put ourselves in those shoes. Not to mention that as much as 30 percent of this HD market is purchased by retired recreational-only haulers. They too have specific needs, including having comfortable space for the grandkids.
So, with all this in mind we towed our fifth-wheel trailers through wind and rain, on highways and byways. After a full day of towing, we put the trucks to bed. The following day was dedicated to payload.
As with any test, we had to go with the lowest published capacity, and this year that was the Ram at 4,600lb. Roof Mart, an IKO company, in London, loaded us up with pallets of shingles, which weighed in at 4,480lb. The dimensions of each pallet were four feet wide, four feet high, by five feet long. Watching the trucks drop under the weight was fascinating.
We then set off on a 300km loop, down to Lake Erie and back, where the judges once again cycled through the trucks.
So, what were the conclusions? We collectively came up with the following insights:
- The Ford and Chevy were very close in all areas, while the Ram just wasn’t in the same league this year.
- The Ford and Chevy both handled the towing weight and payload weight well.
- However, the suspension on the Chevy was visually better; it sat more level under load, it squatted less, and in general felt better while driving.
- As an empty truck everyone loved the Ram best, interior-wise and design-wise. However that love was lost once weight was added.
Once the numbers, driving opinions and fuel calculations were added up, the 2013 Chevrolet Silverado was named this year’s Canadian Truck King Challenge winner.
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